Botanicult Fiction: This Side of Paradise
By Dr. David Galbraith, Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens
This Side of Paradise, the 24th episode of the first season of the original Star Trek TV series, is consistently ranked amongst the best of the original series. First broadcast in March 1967, this story evokes classic themes in fiction: conflicts between personal fulfilment and a sense of deeper mission, and between emotion and rationality. These play out throughout the crew of USS Enterprise but especially within the mission-driven, rational Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), the Enterprise’s Vulcan first officer.
Written by Dorothy Fontana and Nathan Butler, the story reaches back into Mr. Spock’s history and his earlier association (and fledgling romance) with botanist Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland). The Enterprise is assigned to visit the planet Omicron Ceti III, where Kalomi is among a colony of humans at risk from fatal Berthold rays. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew are surprised to find that the colonists are not only alive, but are thriving despite the radiation. The colony has a hidden secret: the colonists have been infected by spores from a native plant. The spores are symbionts living within the colonists that allow their hosts to survive the radiation. They also affect the psychology of those infected, removing all ambition except the pursuit of agrarian happiness. Of course, this becomes a problem for Kirk and company. Once infected, the crew only wants to stay on the planet and have no interest in getting on with their heroic trek across the galaxy.
Ironically, it is Kirk’s love of his ship and his mission that drives out his spores. He then confronts (and assaults) Spock, generating such strong emotions in the famously emotionless Vulcan that his spores are also driven out. Once spores leave a host they cannot be re-colonized. Kirk and Spock then rescue the rest of the crew – and the colonists – from the bliss induced by spores by, basically, getting everyone on the planet to attack each other. Once freed they have no choice but to leave Omicron Ceti III or die from the Berthold radiation.
This Side of Paradise remains a fan favourite. Not only does it have plot elements that echo a lot of classical literature – including the biblical expulsion from paradise – but it was the first of many Star Trek explorations of the emotional side of Spock and his fellow Vulcans.
Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation
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